The Archbishop of Canturbury has every right to comment on political decisions – and politicians must listen, argues Simon Hoare MP.
Every day that the House of Commons sits, the day’s proceedings begin with prayers. Those prayers are led by the Speaker’s Chaplain. We pray for wise counsel, for the Queen, The Commonwealth and for the Country.
We pray that we be motivated by the best of intentions and that we set aside all private interests and prejudices. This part of the Parliamentary day is never broadcast. It is intensely private. Irrespective of the Speakers’ religion, if indeed they have any, the Chaplain must be drawn from the Anglican Church.
The Palace of Westminster is just that, a palace. The Chaplaincy is known as a Royal Peculiar (a somewhat peculiar title of itself) because the appointment is made with the permission and agreement of the Sovereign. The Sovereign herself is of course, Supreme Governor of the Church of England. At the other end
of the building in the House of Lords, Church of England Bishops sit, by dint of office, solely because we have an Established Church, and that Church has to be represented within the Legislature: the Lords Spiritual and Temporal.
The Lord Chancellor of England & Wales is involved with the recommendation of Bishops to the Sovereign. The upcoming Queen’s Speech will conclude with the time-honoured phrase:
“I pray that the Blessings of Almighty God may rest upon your counsels”.
The relationship between (Established) Church and State is manifest and intricately interwoven. It will remain so unless or until the Church of England is disestablished. I gleaned from Radio 4 (another National Treasure) that only the UK and Iran have clerics within their respective legislatures as a matter of right. I shall leave that particular fact there.
I raise the above to try to demonstrate why it is perfectly proper for our religious leaders to be able to speak out on issues of politics or policy. They do so from a moral/ethical starting point. Those bishops can make their points in the House of Lords and no one would bat an eyelid. But some would have you believe, make it from the pulpit, and the terrors of Hell are unleashed and the foundations of Civilisation shaken to their very core. Commentary from our religious should be challenging, thought provoking and invite soul searching. Woe betide we should have clerics along the lines of Are You Being Served’s young Mr Grace who only seemed to intone ‘you’re all doing very well’.
I am a Roman Catholic and wear my faith lightly. I try not to moralise or believe I can deduce the view of The
Almighty myself. I like to hear the views of leaders of all religions. However, what I do know is that Christ’s
message, at the forefront of so many minds during the Easter Season, was challenging.
Outcast shepherds rather than local notables at the Nativity Stable. Prostitutes, tax collectors welcomed. The innocence of children preferred over their elders. Hypocrisy, pride and hubris all shot down. The poor rewarded over the rich. If Christ himself challenged the rulers of the day, faced into the accepted wisdoms,
grabbed people and shook them, why shouldn’t those who carry forward the Apostolic message today?
It is indeed their duty and calling to do so.
Criticism is never comfortable to hear. We are all human. We know that. But being uncomfortable and
challenged is a necessary part of our daily and political discourse. We cannot shy awayfrom it. Criticism is not always right. It does not necessarily lead to a Government or public policy having to be changed or
abandoned. It does not always have to be elegantly phrased or robed in some Delphic, nuanced cloak
that is beyond understanding to all but the Mystics. Sometimes I will agree. Other times I won’t. However, I will champion up until the end their right to speak out. Any politician who seeks to diminish that right, belittle the speaker or mute the voice cannot lay legitimate claim to the mantle of democrat or demonstrate an understanding as to how our delicate and centuries-developed modus operandi works.